25 March 2015

Christopher Whitteberry: Patriot & Pioneer

Famous painting of the Battle of Brandywine Creek
I don't know that I can claim any larger number of Revolutionary War ancestors than the next guy, I just happen to be interested in family history and it seems that the stories bubble-up when I least suspect them.  Such was the case when I was trying to make some connection for a branch of the family little is known about.  My ancestor, George Laramore, whom I've written about before, was the only child born to Thomas and Mary Laramore after their marriage in Muskingum County, Ohio.  The history we had on Mary indicated her name was Whittlebury and her husband died before George had turned a year old.  But it wasn't Whittlebury, as I learned from spending probably too much time searching, it was Whitteberry.  And after Thomas' death, Mary brought her infant son to Indiana.

By the time Indiana was being settled in large numbers, the age of Revolutionaries was approaching eighty years old which is why the Hoosier state became home, and the final resting place, to very few Patriots engaged in fighting the British.  But in following Mary and her son, George, I found that she moved on to Indiana to live with her aging parents who came in about 1829 to Tippecanoe County.  Her father, Christopher, and mother, Elizabeth Packer Whitteberry had made a homestead in their 70s.  Recently I found their humble grave sites in rural southeastern Tippecanoe County.  And I learned that Christopher Whitteberry, at the age of 17, fought in the Revolution.

Patriot Christopher Whitteberry's gravestone in Tippecanoe County, IN
Christopher was born October 11, 1760, in either Pennsylvania or Virginia, and in his youth made shoes for the Colonial Army.  In 1777, Christopher participated in the Battle of Brandywine Creek which was one of the culminating battles of the Revolution in which both sides suffered tremendous losses and the Colonial Army, under George Washington, was held at bay away from the fledgling nation's capital at Philadelphia.  After the war, Christopher Whitteberry married Elizabeth Packer and moved to Muskingum County, Ohio.  The parents, with their younger children, continued westward to Indiana on horseback and purchased 80 acres.  Mary was born in 1803, according to an entry in a family Bible.  Elizabeth died in 1835 and Christopher, in 1843.  They were buried on a corner of their farmstead in what later became known as the McDole Cemetery, named for the family that included a granddaughter of Christopher which later farmed the land.  Christopher Whittebury, as far as I know, is my only Revolutionary War ancestor buried in Hoosier soil.

18 March 2015

A Township Institution

We've said good-bye to too many giants of our community in the last few weeks.  One was my great aunt of nearly 94 years.  She impacted my life in a way few have, through her example of public service over nearly 50 years, which I got to observe first-hand.  Firetrucks and ambulances from the community she served led the procession to the cemetery.  She had become an institution and she'll be missed.  The following was read at her memorial service and is composed of excerpts from events held to honor her years of service.

My great aunt and me

“You know what the Lord requires of you.
Love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly before your God.”

There are very few people who embody those words, but Elma Konya did.  She was just and merciful in her daily work of serving others.  And she was humble.  When she learned that she would be honored by receiving the Sagamore, she said “Why do I need recognized, I’m just a farmwife.”

Elma Crothers was born to Lemuel and Bertha Crothers in 1921 at their farmstead in North Township, Marshall County.  Except for a brief time on a farm just across the county line, Elma lived her entire life within the boundaries of a township she served faithfully for nearly fifty years.  Elma worked for Bikeweb manufacturing for seventeen years and as a farm wife before entering a career as a public servant.  In 1962, Elma began working as North Township Deputy Assessor and continued in that capacity until running for North Township Trustee in 1970.  She faithfully executed the office for each of the following ten consecutive terms, winning the public’s trust for her honesty and fairness.

Elma with Senator Donnelly

Citing the continued excellence of the North Township Volunteer Fire Department in equipment and facilities, and the construction of its new building in 1993 as her proudest accomplishments, her unsung commitment to carrying out the duties as trustee and assessor in a fair manner is her true legacy.  This may be most exemplified within the township’s farm community.  With a working knowledge of farm practices, Elma assisted big and small farmers alike in a manner that could only be described as neighborly and above reproach.

For nearly five decades, Elma rode the waves of change associated with her job with grace and great fortitude.  Applying the core values she attained from her youth and life of public service, she understood the importance of self-reliance but was the first to personally lend a hand in practice of the Golden Rule.  This was her most honorable attribute.  By understanding their needs and assisting when others may simply deny their responsibility, Mrs. Konya has forever left a mark on the citizens and history of North Township as a friend and neighbor in the truest meaning of the word.

Elma served faithfully, selflessly, and without recognition-through times when politically popular and not.  Day in and day out.  She didn’t perform “acts” of service, it was her life.  Receiving the Sagamore of the Wabash from the Governor is truly an honor to any Hoosier.  There are times, though, when it is an honor, and there are times when it is an overdue payment for a life of service.

In 2011, Elma Konya was honored for her nearly fifty years of public service.  Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, Elma received a hero’s applause when she rose to her feet and reflected on the guiding principle she used to serve the North Township community over the last forty years as Trustee.

“I lived through the Depression. I knew what it was like to be hungry, to not have a roof over your head, to be without heat.  You care for each other.”

Senator Donnelly was on hand to offer words of appreciation to Konya and said “you are the inspiration to what the fabric of this great nation is made of…to quietly serve your neighbors and friends”. He then read a letter congratulating and thanking Mrs. Konya for her many years of service, and best wishes from the President.

11 March 2015

Whitley County Courthouse: walking on glass

The Whitley County Courthouse in the center of downtown Columbia City has one of the most unusual features found in a Hoosier county courthouse.  Long before the "sky deck" on the Willis Tower (Sears Tower) in Chicago was conceived, the brilliant architect, Brent S. Tolan of Ft. Wayne had an innovative idea for how natural lighting could fill the center of the limestone fortress.  Glass floors.  Two levels of glass floors, beneath a sky-lit dome, allowed natural light to fill the rotunda space of the Whitley County Courthouse, dedicated on June 14, 1890.  The floors are composed of glass blocks held in a framework of steel.  And I couldn't help but notice that one could look up and see the footprints from a visitor to this seat of justice.  Unfortunately a renovation in 1979, while saving the building, closed off the natural light in the dome-so the effect is restricted to the historic light fixtures, but still-what a great look.

04 March 2015

Schroeder Barn: the four seasons

OK-I give.  I think I'm ready for spring.  In the hope of a quick return to warmer weather, I offer up this collage of the four seasons at Sycamore Hill, featuring the Schroeder Barn, built in 1865.  Many thanks to my good friend over at Troy Sherk Photography for supplying the spring (top) and winter (bottom) photos.


24 February 2015

Zax ByPass

I wish I had more time to blog.
I always find it therapeutic and it seems that a handful of you actually enjoy reading Hoosier Happenings as well.  The last several weeks have found me steeped in new responsibilities to which I've tried to throw myself at wholeheartedly so combined with work, something had to give.  But I saw a post on Facebook last night concerning community development that prompted this recollection of a story by the great philosopher, Dr. Seuss, and maybe sums up a great deal of my experiences in these first few weeks........and honestly, seems like a reflection on nearly the last "fifty-nine years" as we stand here in the prairie of Prax beneath the Zax ByPass.  Let's hope for an off-ramp and begin to pull in the same direction, together, because the world isn't going to stand still-it will grow.  Lately it's been growing around and without us.

The Zax by Dr. Seuss

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped.  There they stood.
Foot to foot.  Face to face.

"Look here, now!" the North-Going Zax said.  "I say!
You are blocking my path.  You are right in my way.
I'm a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!"

"Who's in whose way?" snapped the South-Going Zax.
"I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you're in MY way!  And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove."

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
"I never," he said, "take a step to one side.
And I'll prove to you that I won't change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!"

"And I'll prove to YOU," yelled the South-Going Zax,
"That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years!  For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge!  That's my rule.  Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west!  Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging!  I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!"

Of course the world didn't stand still.  The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

07 January 2015

Cowles Bog at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

My appreciation for the Indiana dunes began several years ago when researching the early preservation movement in the dunes region, headed up by notable folks like Jens Jensen, and stand-out botanist Dr. Henry Cowles of Chicago who completed pioneering work in ecology in the dunes.  While I haven't extensively explored the dunes area (outside of the state park), I have enjoyed a few hikes in the area.  Recently a buddy and I hiked the trail through Cowles Bog, one of the most ecologically significant areas of the dunes and named for the good doctor who helped place it on the map.

The bog is estimated to be about 8,000 years old and is described as a "fen" or marsh area covered with mosses and sedges.  The bog was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965, about the time the National Lakeshore was created.  In 1913, Dr. Cowles headed up an international excursion to the bog, attended by scientists from around the world who came to witness one of the most ecologically-diverse areas in the United States, only behind Yellowstone Park and the giant redwoods area of California.

Yep-right here in Indiana.

31 December 2014


I had a long conversation this week with a young man who is trying to reconcile the traditions of Christmas with his Christian faith.  He's taken it to heart and has pages of notes from his research on the origins of Christmas as the holiday we observe.  He became very serious and asked me "what do you think of Christmas?"  Not exactly sure what he was getting at, I said, "well, it's over-commercialized, and of course, it wasn't when Christ was actually born."  More than a half hour later we parted and I mentioned that I had this post rolling around in my head and that our conversation encouraged me to frame it a little differently.

Now this isn't going to be a "put Christ back in Christmas" post, nor is it about the idea the holiday has been hijacked by retailers.  In looking for the true spirit of the celebration, in an aspect of the Christian faith that truly should be celebrated, I wonder if we've let the hype steal what could be, and I think was, one of the most meaningful emotions of the season.  Have we lost the feeling of anticipation?

From the time the angel appeared to Mary, then Joseph, the anticipation of the Christ was nurtured by these two individuals who God chose to reveal his plan of salvation and reconciliation of the fractured world.  And when Mary gave birth, the angels carried that message of hope to shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, who hurried with anticipation to see this savior-child.  And some time later, having been revealed to magi, these wise men followed a star in anticipation to see who they knew had been foretold in ancient prophecies.  What would be next for Jesus?  His father and mother must have wondered, and then the young men He gathered to His side must have felt such great anticipation in their hearts as Christ healed the sick, made the lame to walk, and opened blind eyes.  And when all hope must have seemed lost on Golgotha, imagine the anxious hearts when they learned the stone had been rolled away.  What great feeling of wonder and anticipation must have filled those with whom Jesus had walked the streets of Jerusalem.

Christmas Eve at the 'ol homestead
When I was a kid, I know full well what the root of anticipation was for Christmas.  Presents.  However, as I grew older into my teens I began to recognize something else about this time of the year.  The warmth of family and friends, the simple joy of being together....and rest from the long year behind.  Growing up in a non-traditional church, I felt more "enlightened" without the trappings of liturgy found in more traditional congregations.  Advent sounded like ritual, which of course must be far from the heart of God.  But as I consider these things today, I wonder if ritual and tradition shouldn't bring our hearts back to the feeling of anticipation for what the meaning of Christ's birth is to this world.

Christmas Eve is my most favorite point on the calender.  There seems to be an almost palatable feeling of peace that envelopes the world around us.  I can walk through our house and feel warmth, hope, and peace in a way that is hard to put into words, but I am sure you understand what I am attempting to convey.  And maybe it is the lights on the tree, or the traditions of family before me that pull my heart to that place.  But from my late teens until now-it has been the most sacred of times as I consider the sacrifice, born in a manger, that brings hope to the world.

Frankly, I don't know that I care that the Church landed on December 25 to celebrate the birth of Christ eons ago.  To me, it is less about celebrating a day than it is about celebrating what the coming of Christ as a baby means to the Christian faith.  I choose to celebrate, with anticipation, what God has already prepared for me in the year ahead.  So in that vein, celebrating at this point on the calender makes perfect sense.  Redirecting our hearts and thoughts during this time should start with the feeling of anticipation borne out of reflecting on the blessings God has provided in this last year and looking forward to fulfilling His calling on our hearts in the year ahead.

This isn't a post about the appropriateness of Christmas trees or lights, or greenery or Santa.  And it isn't about deciding how many gifts cross the line from making this Christmas commercialized or not.  Maybe this is a call to re-frame our thinking at this time of the year to that of anticipation.  Block out the noise and don't worry about whether or not a manger scene is on the courthouse lawn, don't try to make the story of Christ's birth more hip with clever sermon titles or cute phrases.  Just share it and ask yourself the pointed question for the year ahead, "am I living in anticipation of the Savior of the world?"

17 December 2014

Peace on Earth

One of the most quoted scriptures during Advent is the message the angles carried to shepherds tending their flocks outside Bethlehem:  Luke 2:14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men."

Two thousand years later, while some still hope for peace, it seems an elusive concept in so much of the world.  And where violence doesn't shadow the hope of peace, the busy-ness of life, angst, greed, and what-have-you tends to steal the peace that is ours for the asking.  We must only seek it in the One whose coming was wrapped in its message.  Too often, in many churches, we don't even bother with the hope for peace, much less in being peacemakers as is found in the Beatitudes, because we feel somehow the reality of sin and our disconnection with those who do not profess Christ, provides a waiver from our responsibility to this world.  A world that needs to know the peace of God....I should hope that we're not so broken a vessel to carry that message.

For a few generations the words "Peace on Earth" hung near the top of my grandfather's barn.  His family, who left the Amish church, did not know war until he served in the Pacific theater during World War II.  Was it any wonder after his service ended that he should have that message proclaimed from on high?  When the farm left the family, my mom noticed the words had disappeared from the barn, so she stopped and asked the owner if he had kept them.  He did, and they found their way to our home.

About 10 years ago we used the words, and our kids, to send the message of "peace on earth" on our Christmas cards.  When we arrived in the country, I think my mom thought they'd be placed on our barn.  Instead, we had the perfect place for them inside our home and they stand as a constant reminder of what our responsibility is in this world:  agents of peace, peacemakers, as we've been called to.  I think that means giving up our rights, or the need to be right, in so many circumstances.  I think it means finding ways to get people talking with each other, to work toward compromise and understanding.  It means speaking less, and listening more, and being more inclusive in how we go about doing our Father's will.

So, in this week leading up to Christmas, let's determine to find an inward peace and contentment and then in the year before us, let's commit to being peacemakers, healers if you will, to the broken world around us.

10 December 2014

Michigan City: Vision to Capitalize on its History

1869 bird's-eye view of Michigan City, the Michigan Road is the main angled street not conforming to the grid
 A few years ago I met one of Michigan City's movers and shakers while developing the Historic Michigan Road Byway.  The guy had a vision for how Michigan City could reinvent itself and capitalize on its history and location on Lake Michigan.  Working with the redevelopment commission, an aggressive plan was put into action which would seek to list a major swath of the city into three National Register districts.  The city went from 0 districts to 3 in three years, the last being listed this year, in the hope that economic development would follow.

The Warren Building, under redevelopment as the new Artspace project
And it has.  Significant tax credit projects are being developed, or are under construction, that took advantage of the benefit of having the districts listed on the Register.  But the vision went far beyond just preserving old buildings-it has included the concept for creating a central arts district in the historic downtown, advocating for keeping the South Shore running through the downtown, despite efforts to reroute it.  And the vision better connects the lakefront to the downtown.  Investment in near east and west side residential districts has seen a general improvement of the neighborhoods, making them a more desirable place to live with easy access to new businesses opening up in the downtown.
First Congregational Church, 1881, on Washington Street
In 1831 Isaac Elston of Crawfordsville, Indiana purchased the land that would become Michigan City from the State of Indiana.  A year later he platted the town of Michigan City.  The new town was platted at the location surveyed by the State of Indiana in 1829 as the northern terminus of the Michigan Road, though the road was not constructed through LaPorte County until 1834.  The road connected Madison, on the Ohio River, with what was believed would be the best harbor on Lake Michigan for the state.  The mouth of Trail Creek at Lake Michigan was thought to offer an adequate harbor although only small boats were able to moor until improvements were made in the harbor between 1836 and 1852.  The first settlers arrived in 1833 and by 1836 over 3,000 people lived in Michigan City.  By 1880 the population was over 7,000 and it more than doubled to 14,850 by 1900.

The former Zorn Brewery complex, c. 1870, in the Elston Grove District
The three districts include Elston Grove, named by the town's founder, on the east side of the downtown from Michigan (Road) Street to Pine Street.  The Franklin Street District is the historic central commercial corridor once revamped as one of those nasty 1970s pedestrian malls, but now the heart of the arts district.  The third district is the Haskell-Barker District on the downtown's west side, stretching to the street bordering the outlet mall, and named for the former train car manufacturer in the city.  The three districts, combined, now have nearly 600 buildings that are eligible to receive rehabilitation tax credits.  The two most promising large projects include the Warren Building, an Artspace studio/residential venture in the downtown, and the former Zorn Brewery on the old Michigan Road, which is being considered for an upscale spa.

This is what happens when a community rallies around its historic resources = economic development.

03 December 2014

Sweitzer Barn on the Van Reed Farm, Warren County

Levi Van Reed House, Warren County
 I had the great fortune of writing a National Register nomination for the Levi Van Reed farm of Warren County, Indiana. Here is a little history of the family and what makes the farm unique. The Van Reed family moved to Pine Township, organized in 1830, when they purchased this property in 1856.  It's unclear if Levi Van Reed constructed the house or other buildings on the property given his former occupation in Mississippi as a carpenter.  Van Reed was elected to the board of Warren County Commissioners in 1867.  He served one three-year term, after which he retired to his farm.  His wife Amelia died in 1873 and Levi died in 1877.  Both are buried in the cemetery that the Barto family, from whom they purchased the farm, established in the 1830s.  The cemetery is located southeast of the farmstead and is known as the Van Reed cemetery due to the number of Van Reed family interments at the cemetery.

Sweitzer barn on the Van Reed farm
After Levi’s death the farming operations were carried out by his sons John and Levi, Jr.  The vast estate was divided among Levi’s living children, each receiving hundreds of acres.  Levi Van Reed, Jr. inherited the family farmstead which included 240 acres on either side of Old U.S. 41.  Levi Van Reed, Jr. was born in 1860, likely at the farmstead.  In 1895, the Levi Van Reed, Jr. family retired from farming and moved to Williamsport where they were involved in other business interests.

Spoon mold on the farm.....just kidding, what a great splash block design!
The barn is a great example of a type of German bank barn known as a Sweitzer barn.  Its origins are decidedly Pennsylvanian, like those of the Van Reed family.  It is the only example of a Sweitzer barn and one of only three bank barns in the county .  The size and quality of construction of the barn relate to the prosperity realized by the Van Reed family’s agricultural pursuits.  The barn has four bays and is considered large for the time period and region in which it was constructed.  German bank barns are divided into two types:  Pennsylvania and Sweitzer.  In a Pennsylvania barn, the peak is centered on the gable while the Sweitzer barn's ridge is off-centered, like that of old salt-box style homes of New England.  These are pretty rare in Indiana, and the Van Reed barn has an impressive charm sitting in the pasture on the edge of a rolling hill.  The house is an impressive example of Greek Revival style architecture, with some Italianate influence, all neatly apportioned to an I-house.  The farm was a great save by Indiana Landmarks.

26 November 2014

Saybrooke or Starbucks?

So I'm trying to embrace by English roots now that I've learned my DNA results and I'm a great deal more English than German, and even less so-Irish.  I've been running down several branches of my family tree and one that has eluded me is that of the Chapman family who moved into Marshall County during the 1840s.  We've heard stories of Dr. Clarke Chapman, who graduated from LaPorte Medical School and rode horseback from his farm north of Argos to make house calls.  And through research we found that his father, Ezekiel, lived in Argos as well.  And the most fabled of family lore, was that Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman was a cousin who visited their farm.  That never quite added up, but I had always hit a brick wall with any information earlier than Ezekiel, who lived in New York state.

But in my recent research I was able to connect a more senior Ezekiel to my Indiana pioneer, which led to a third Ezekiel in Connecticut, which led to the Chapmans of Saybrooke, Connecticut, who founded the town in 1635.  Robert I came to America in 1635 from England and founded the town, his son, Robert II, and grandson, Robert III, lived and died in the New England town.  The founder's grave is now unmarked, but his son's grave, my great x9 grandfather, is still marked with a stone that has one of the region's famously carved designs-a stylized primitive angel.  I shared the photo with a friend and he immediately responded that it looked like the Starbuck's logo.  Huh...kinda.  I found   that most Chapmans trace their roots to Robert I, likely Johnny Appleseed does too....but I haven't found that yet.  Several more interesting stories have surfaced as well, but yet a few ancestors continue to elude me.

On this Thanksgiving eve, as I delved into the richness of our country's history reaching back to its foundations, I wonder what we are leaving in our wake.  What will those who come after us say of our generation?  For nearly 400 years we built, cleared, prospered and can be truly thankful for much.  But for what will the generations that follow be thankful to our generation?  I hope it's more than limitless Starbucks.